Rate The Albums is a new series in which we line up a band’s album output in descending order of quality, from top to bottom. Then you tell us how you think their CVs should be arranged. Banter ensues.
Here Dan Martin runs through the Manic Street Preachers’ discography in his order of preference, starting with his top album ‘The Holy Bible’.
‘The Holy Bible’
It couldn’t really be anything else. The monolith that towers not only over the rest of the band’s glittering career, but actually towers just as forbiddlingly over most of rock’n’roll. ‘The Holy Bible’ was released on the same day as ‘Definitely Maybe’, and while a couple of years later a reduced Manics would be supporting Oasis in stadiums, as a snapshot of how out of step the band were with everything else, that scheduling could not be more perfect.
Not that there’s much else especially positive about it. With the band close to breaking through into some kind of popularity, Richey was in freefall, and while his internal battles proved endlesslt traumatic for those around him, his breakdown gave the world some of the most dense, harrowing, but insanely effervescent lyrics of all time. The band responded with a jagged, obtuse firebomb of gothic post-punk and while the result was a band whose melodics and polemics were in perfect synthesis, it felt like something that was careering out of control. It couldn’t end well – as we all know it didn’t. So it’s hard to enjoy listening to ‘The Holy Bible’ knowing what came next. Best to just bow to its caustic malevolence, and simply obey.
‘Everything Must Go‘
And out of the tragedy came the noble uprising. Wisely choosing not to even attempt to ape what they’d done with ‘The Holy Bible’, the remaining Manics pulled in the opposite direction and found a new language. Drenched in strings and swelling with courage and pride, ‘Everything Must Go’ succeeded as one of the grandest about-turns in rock history, firing off gleaming choruses and soaring melodrama. In ‘A Design For Life’, a ‘glorious death waltz’ about working class pride, they turned out one of the greatest singles of the 90s, yet everything about ‘Everything’ brims with a bruised hope that would become their new currency.
Famously, their debut was supposed to sell more copies than ‘Appetite For Destruction’, then the band were suppose to give up. And ‘Generation Terrorists’ is gloriously audacious from start to finish. It might be too long and not all of it has aged so well, but for a band setting out to be Guns N’Roses meets Public Enemy – at the height of baggy, let’s not forget – there have been few better calling cards. “We’re a mess of eyeliner and spraypaint / DIY destruction and Chanel chic,” roared ‘Stay Beautiful’, and instantly, Manic Street Preachers were a band the world could not possibly ignore.”
‘Send Away The Tigers’
“Always better on the back foot,” Sean Moore told us the other week. And it’s true – ‘Lifeblood’ could easily have done for the Manics. But with ‘Send Away The Tigers’ they rediscovered their sense of purpose and ushered in their third great phase. Realising that an ostentatious rock band is a great thing to be, the band dug out the feather boas and glitter, summoned up ‘Your Love Alone Is Not Enough’ and turned out an album of supremely confident stadium punk.
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‘Journal For Plague Lovers’
With the spring back in their step, the Manics felt it was finally appropriate to revisit the cache of lyrics Richy had left before they went away and roped in Steve Albini to give the songs their necessary grit. A supremely risky move, but one they pulled off with dignity, and a convincing return to the musical bile that powered ‘The Holy Bible’. Thinking it would be crass, they released no singles, meaning ‘National Treaures – The Complete Singles’ is denied the fabulous ‘Jackie Collins Existential Question Time’.
‘Postcards From A Young Man’
“One last shot at mass communication,” was Wire’s catchphrase, set to go down as defining of this age as “I know I believe in nothing but it is my nothing,” way back in 1994. Sensing some kind of turning point, a going to the opposite extreme after ‘Journal’, they threw the melodic kitchen sink at their tenth album, and the result was a riotous onslaught – not the full stop at the end of their mainstream career, but perhaps the question mark.
‘Gold Against The Soul’
The band can barely stand it, as it was the moment when the wodges of record company cash and expensive studios muddled up their artistic vision. But even they would struggle to deny that in ‘From Despair To Where’, ‘La Tristesse Duerera’, ‘Roses In The Hospital’ and ‘Life Becoming A Landslide’ it boasts one of the greatest sequences of four singles on any rock record ever.
‘This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours’
While ‘Everything Must Go’ invented a new version of the band, it’s follow-up ran with it, before running it into the ground. ‘This Is My Truth’ lacked its predecessor’s effervescence. It gave us ‘If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next’, but even they sounded bored by the end.
‘Know Your Enemy’
Maybe thinking up his legacy that little bit too much, Wire has likened this flawed opus to their very own ‘Sandinista!’ What is true of their bloated mid-period set is that there is one excellent 10-track album in there somewhere fighting to get out.
If nothing else, ‘Lifeblood’ is a fascinating oddity. Proof that re-invention isn’t always a good thing – in this case it was little short of a disaster, as the band cast themselves as a beige version of Depeche Mode, with a lead single re-evaluating the legacy of Richard Nixon. The weirdest thing? It isn’t even all that bad – it just definitely isn’t the Manic Street Preachers.
How would you rate the Manics’ discography?